Ontario doctor who lost everything speaks out on fentanyl addiction ahead of sentence
Darryl Gebien says he’s ready to accept his fate.
The 46-year-old former ER doctor at the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie, Ont. faces 68 charges related to the forging of prescriptions and trafficking of fentanyl and will be sentenced on April 18.
“That’s probably one of the most fearful things for me, is having my fate in somebody else’s hands,” he told Global News’ Alan Carter in a recent interview.
“But I did wrong, I accept that, regardless of poor judgement and whether or not I was involved in medications. I still made some grave mistakes and I will respect what the judge’s opinion is. It’s part of life, I’ll accept the sentence.”
Gebien was first arrested in November 2014 and charged with three counts of uttering a forged document, after a pharmacist alerted police to unusual prescriptions.
In January 2015, he was arrested for a second time and charged with 65 additional offences.
In total, Barrie police alleged close to 500 fraudulent prescriptions for fentanyl patches were issued by Gebien.
He learned 33 to 44 of those patches illegally made it onto the streets of Barrie, which is part of the reason why prosecutors are seeking a sentence of eight years behind bars.
A ‘slave’ to fentanyl
Gebien said his fentanyl addiction led him down a dark path that ended with his arrest, but the guilt he feels for his actions continues.
“There’s a lot of shame and grief when I think about that, but I have to put myself back in the frame of mind I was in,” he said.
“At that point of my addiction I was so desperate, I was a slave to the medication.”
Gebien said the thought of going through fentanyl withdrawal was “simply terrifying” and his addiction quickly became less about feeling a high and more about not feeling sick from a lack of the drug.
“It’s not like a sudden decision,” he said. “An addiction doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”
The beginning of the end
Gebien said a Percocet prescription for back pain in 2013 started his recreational addiction to opioids, which he described as a “double-edged” sword that worsened with withdrawal.
“The user eventually gets to the point where they start using so much and they don’t realize they’ve gone over the cliff, and they go through withdrawal if they don’t take it,” he said.
“You develop a tolerance very quickly and you need more and more of the same drug to achieve the same effect.”
In 2014, Gebien said he ran out of the drug and was going through “severe withdrawal” when he decided to use his access to fentanyl as an ER doctor to supplement his opioid addiction.
Instead of wearing the fentanyl patch as it is meant to be used, Gebien searched online on how to abuse the drug.
“After one hit of it, it was so strong, so potent, and I was hooked. And the next day I couldn’t stop myself from using,” he said.
“That spiral suddenly escalated big time and from there it only took six months to spiral out of control.”
A life unravelled
Gebien said he lost a large amount of weight, began having serious marital and family issues and friends and family began to worry about him.
“I looked terrible,” he said. “It’s like a different person, I’m shocked just to see myself in those photos.”
Gebien said he’s amazed at how quickly he fell from grace, after working hard for years to secure his Ontario medical licence and employment with Barrie’s Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre.
“Things were going so well and then from A to B, all of a sudden, I’m an addict slave to a drug doing crazy stupid things to obtain my medications,” he said.
“To not really get high at this point but to avoid getting sick, hurting people in the process, lying, deceiving people — this is why fentanyl is so destructive when its inappropriately used.”
Gebien said the “rapid tolerance” addicts develop with fentanyl, combined with the constant threat of withdrawal, compels them to do “crazy things” such as theft, prostitution, or in his case writing fraudulent prescriptions.
A rude awakening
But before his arrest, Gebien said he almost lost everything.
“I was very close to dying. My wife saved my life. I was not breathing and she found me just in time,” he said.
“You would think that would be the bottom, but this is how powerful this drug is when inappropriately used … I still continued to use.”
On Jan. 19, 2015, Gebien awoke to handful of emergency task force police officers with battering rams and search dogs “barking like crazy” outside of his door.
He and his wife were arrested and taken from their home, while his three children tried to process what happened.
Piecing a life back together
But despite the fear and humiliation of being arrested, Gebien said that day started him on a path to redemption.
“Being arrested basically saved my life, like it stopped me, it took that to get to the point to say, ‘OK I’m done,” he said.
“It hurts to think about what I did to my wife and kids, but the fact that I was in jail — oddly enough I learned a lot.”
After spending several weeks incarcerated, Gebien said he met a lot of “good people” like himself who had made “bad mistakes.”
“One of the oddest things was losing freedom,” he said.
“I realized I am no longer a part of society, I am no longer giving back to the community, I am marginalized from society and that drove me nuts.”
But Gebien said that he felt a strange sense of relief after losing his freedom.
“I was taken away from all my problems, so it actually helped I wasn’t going through relapse, or going through withdrawals or detox then,” he said.
“I just gave up my problems, I could no longer control them anymore.”
An uncertain future
For now, Gebien said he’s hopeful he can practice medicine again but needs to make amends for what he’s done.
“The first apology that I need to make is to my former wife and to my kids and to my in-laws for what I put them through,” he said.
“There’s also people that I hurt in the process of my addiction and who I took advantage of. People from the hospital; I apologize to all my colleagues at the hospital and my unprofessionalism on behalf of the physician community.”
His future as a doctor remains in the hands of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
“I’m hoping though that they’ll be compassionate and understanding,” he said.
“I basically pleaded guilty to trafficking fentanyl, which is a horrible thing, but the details will be out for them to understand this was not related to financial gain.”
Gebien admitted he abused his authority to obtain the drugs he felt he needed at the time, but he said he hopes others understand it was fuelled by addiction as opposed to greed.
“I’ve had a very strong recovery — six months of inpatient rehab, a lot of 12 step meetings, being very active, being vocal now in the community, trying to get back as best I can,” he said.
“So I really hope, because I can’t wait for the day that I’m back to being a physician again.”
Gebien said that after everything he’s experienced, he believes he would be a much better doctor and could offer insight into the growing opioid addiction crisis across Canada.
“I now have lived-experience,” he said. “So I’m very excited about it, but cautious because I don’t know what they’ll decide.”
Gebien said he’s gained hope, enthusiasm and joy from his recovery, despite the unknowns that hang in the balance.
“That’s probably the most important message I could give to you and other people today is that it’s a hard battle to get through … but I finally, finally got my life back,” he said.
“I remember saying to a friend of mine in one of my rehabs … ‘I’m finally back to the guy I was five years ago,’ and he said ‘No Darryl you’re better than the guy you were five years ago … and he was right.”
Rebuilding after addiction
Gebien said he’s discovered newfound enthusiasm, creativity and happiness in his life and feels as though he is finally contributing to society again.
“In addiction I’m a taker, but now in recovery I’m a giver,” he said. “So it is so much better on this side. I’m so much better of a person than I ever was before.”
“I think I’m through the worst of it.”
Gebien said he now uses social media to connect with others who have struggled or continue to struggle with addiction, which gives him a sense of purpose going forward.
“Whether or not I have my medical licence or not, I found a new niche for myself … People reaching out from all walks of life, total strangers, people asking me for advice on their family or friends,” he said.
“I’m not practicing medicine, but it seems to me that the timing is uncanny how this opioid crisis is going on and I had gotten through my recovery.”
Gebien said he feels as though he’s finally able to give back again, especially as a consultant for governments and public health officials who continue to develop strategies to fight opioid addiction.
“I’m optimistic again,” he said. “It’s too easy to be negative in life. Even though I’ve had some really bad things on my plate, I choose to be an optimist.”
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.